IFAM Presents Lepilal Rispah Semoine from Acacia Moyo (Kenya)
Interview with Stuart Ashman, IFAM CEO
Thursday, December 3, 10 am (MDT)
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ACACIA MOYO   (ah-kay-sha    moi-yo) was founded in 2017 by Kenny Mann, a Kenyan who now lives in Santa Fe, and Anthony Carlson, also with deep Kenya connections and a Santa Fe resident.  We work with the Maasai community that occupies an area just south of Nairobi National Game Park in an area known as Kitengela.

The Kitengela Maasai face serious threats from the encroaching city of Nairobi, with developers snatching up Maasai land in every direction.  Poverty forces families to sell off land, which in turn reduces available grazing areas for wildlife and livestock.  A Maasai without land cannot keep livestock and eventually becomes a Maasai ghost, forced to seek low grade work in Nairobi and unable to re-enter his community without livestock to pay a bride price or other required fees. Without grazing, and without Maasai who are natural conservationists as they don’t hunt, the fate of the surrounding wildlife is also in jeopardy.  Our work aims to prevent the sale of Maasai land by developing community entrepreneurship in several ventures that would provide sustainable, income-producing activities based on a holistic core curriculum that will provide the marketable skills and products needed to thrive economically while maintaining Maasai traditions.

One branch of our work is the evolving mission with  the Maasai women who make traditional beaded jewelry.  The majority of these women are extremely poor and live in remote areas of Kitengela.  Many are single mothers. They have never been to school, are illiterate and have little or no power in the community.  However, a new generation of young beadwork designers is emerging that is better educated and very savvy with social media.  Acacia Moyo has identified 4 young women who have become the chief designers for a brand new collection of jewelry that is very much related to traditional  work but more geared towards a global market rather than just local tourists or the minor markets in Kenya.

In order to fulfill the requirements of such a global market, ACACIA MOYO has used some of the profits from the 2019 IFAM to sponsor the design team, which consists of Phoebe Lasoi (who participated in IFAM 2019), Rispah Somoine, Namoi Teto and Sarah David.  While they are extremely skilled in traditional work, which they have all learned from their mothers, they needed a boost in the form of two workshops that have just been completed. 

The first was conducted by Stephen Oloo – a superb beader and leather-worker – who taught the ladies how to properly finish their beaded leather arm cuffs and hatbands with special strengthening stitches, accurate leather cuts and special knots.    The second workshop was conducted by designer Gladys Macharia who is teaching the very complicated beading processes of some new, very contemporary designs that will be marketed globally via IBU MOVEMENT – an organization works with women artisans all over the world. 

The new designs very  much reflect the Maasai tradition in the use of the collar shape for necklaces, along with metal attachments such as coins, discs and half-moons.  However, they display an entirely new color scheme which is far removed from the traditional Maasai colors of red, green, orange, blue, black and white, each of which has their own traditional symbolic meaning.  As Rispah Somoine states, it is the beading itself that is the Massai womens’ tradition, not necessarily the designs or colors.   

In the last few years, Nairobi has become the BEADING CAPITAL OF AFRICA and it is possible to obtain any kind of bead that one can imagine.  In addition skilled craftsmen make any accessories, such as hooks and decorative items.  With this in mind, Rispah and her colleagues are eager to start their own beading business in Kitengela, which would help to support the more traditional women of the Olmakau Cooperative.  They need funds to rent studio space in Kitengela, to set up their own website and to purchase materials for new jewelry.

This development is exactly the goal that Acacia Moyo hoped to reach, ie that eventually, the Olmakau Women’s Beading Cooperative will become independently successful in bringing in enough income from beadwork to help the women feed their families and send their children to school.